Under Governor Michael O ‘Dwyer’s draconian rule from May 1913 to May 1919, Punjab witnessed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which created unrest amongst the local educated urban population. This led to General O ‘Dwyer’s ouster amidst demands for reforms, such as the 1919 Government of India Act and formation of a nominated consultative council. Muslims in Punjab formed 54.7 per cent of the population, but O ‘Dwyer had successfully sown seeds of division among them along rural biradri basis. Punjab was ruled by a coalition of Unionists who swore allegiance to the British Raj, the Khalsa National Party and the Hindu Board led by Raja Narendra Nath. Meanwhile, the Muslim majority in Bengal laid down the foundations of the Muslim League in 1906.
In 1905, Malik Barkat Ali, having done his MA in English, started his career as an assistant professor of English at FC College, Lahore. After a brief stint in government service, serving as the treasury officer, he resigned in January 1914 and stated working in the weekly Observer by April of that year, where he became actively involved in politics. Outbreak of the First World War and the events in Turkey, followed by arrests of Muslim leaders, had an impact on Punjab politics. The Zamindar of Maulana Shaukat Ali supported progressives and when this paper ceased publication, the work was taken up by Observer under the editorship of Barkat Ali. During this early period, he came into contact with Allama Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and this association continued till the day he died. On June 18, 1918, O ‘Dwyer imposed a ban on Observer till such time Malik Barkat Ali was its editor. The proprietors chose to cease publication.
Having completed his LLB in 1916, Barkat Ali joined the legal profession as an active lawyer in January 1920 and started taking part in politics. In 1923, communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims of Punjab heightened. Malik Barkat Ali, Mian Abdul Aziz, Pir Tajuddin and Mian Shah Nawaz represented the Muslim point of view, while C R Das, Motilal Nehru, Maulana Azad represented the Congress. By the end of 1923, the Muslim leaders of Punjab, realising the diversity of problems facing the community, decided to consolidate a common platform of an All-India Muslim League (AIML) and in May 1924, an invitation was extended for holding a session on May 24-25.
Malik Barkat Ali took active part in the Muslim League annual sessions at Bombay, Aligarh and Delhi in 1924, 1925 and 1926. Meanwhile, Allama Iqbal, while delivering his presidential address at the annual session held at Allahabad in 1930, had stated that it was his desire and belief that the destiny of Muslims of north-west India lay in forming a separate state comprising Punjab, Sindh, the Frontier and Balochistan.
On April 29, 1936, Muhammad Ali Jinnah came to Lahore in order to organise the Muslim League in Punjab. Mian Fazl-e-Hussain, a moderate leader of the Unionist Party, who had initially worked for the Muslims of Punjab, declined to support the Quaid. Jinnah met Allama Iqbal at his residence on May 1 who assured his wholehearted support for the forthcoming elections. On May 12, 1936, Allama Iqbal was elected as the president, Malik Barkat Ali and Khalifa Shujauddin as the vice-presidents, Ghulam Rasool as the secretary and Ashiq Batalvi as the joint secretary. On May 21, 1936, the Quaid announced the constitution of 56 members of the AIML central parliamentary committee comprising 11 from Punjab, which included Allama Iqbal and Malik Barkat Ali.
Malik Barkat Ali was a close confidant of Allama Iqbal, who campaigned for his election in January 1937, along with many others when Punjab was ruled by the Unionists in coalition with Hindus and the Sikh khalsa. Sardar Sikandar Hayat actively used all his resources to support the Unionist candidate Shaikh Ghulam Hyder. Malik Barkat Ali, contesting on the Muslim League platform from the eastern districts of Jullundur, Ferozepur, Hoshairpur, Kasur etc. won his seat. For eight long years, Malik Barkat Ali represented the Muslim League alone in the Punjab Legislature because Raja Ghazanfar, another successful candidate, was defeated immediately after elections. He actively supported the Punjab Muslim Students Federation, presiding over their first meeting held on September 29, 1937 and again in November 1937. It is a tragic fact that while Allama Iqbal was confined to bed, the Punjab Muslim League, which he had led, had its affiliation cancelled on April 3, 1938 by a five-member committee comprising of Nawab Liaquat Ali. Allama Iqbal died under such tragic circumstances.
Malik Barkat Ali died on April 5, 1946 while addressing a special tribunal in the Burma Fraud Case. At a Special Session of the Muslim League held in 1946, the Quaid paid him the following tribute: “I am deeply grieved to hear the very depressing and sad news of the sudden death of Malik Barkat Ali. He was from the very beginning, a true and loyal member of Muslim League, and on all occasions, he rendered the greatest service to Muslim India. His advice and staunch support on all occasions was of greatest value to the League and myself. Muslim India has lost in him a great man, and I have lost in him not only a colleague, a collaborator, but also a friend. My deepest sympathies go out to his family in their bereavement for this irreparable loss.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2015.